Wondering vs. Pondering - What's the Big Idea? - Mid-Pacific Institute

Elementary School Principal's Blog

Wondering vs. Pondering - What's the Big Idea?

Posted on April 18, 2010

by Dr. Edna Hussey on April 18, 2010

This past week Dr. George E. Forman, emeritus professor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, co-editor of the Hundred Languages of Children (first and second editions, third edition in process), and most renown for his work in the schools of Reggio Emilia, spent three days in our preschool through second grade classrooms observing students and teachers during inquiry work. He interacted with the children and met with the faculty to share his thinking on the "big idea" versus thematic teaching. We learned that the notion of "big idea" refers to the big ideas of children when they grapple with their questions about the world and try to make sense of things that they ponder ("construct" meaning). Big ideas are deeper, more complex than learning about dinosaurs, magnetism, colonization, or transportation (themes and topics). Big ideas are often theories and speculations that come from children's own thinking processes. For an actual example from a classroom, see Jen Matsumoto's current blog about her kindergartner's explorations of systems in the human body or Donna Revard's blog about her students' recent discussion on "needs" versus "wants."

In the Saturday workshop with Dr. Forman, nearly 100 participants from many early childhood centers, as well as instructors and students from the University of Hawaii and our own MPI parents (and grandparents!), analyzed video documentation and transcripts of student dialogue to better understand the concept of "big ideas." He explained that inquiry could begin with "wondering" but should develop into "pondering." For example, a child might wonder about what time his father will come from work; whereas, a child might ponder why it is that his father always comes home at the same time each day. Or a child might wonder about how stars seem to shine at night versus a child pondering why these same stars are invisible during the day. Pondering, you see, has to do with encountering some confusion, and this disequilibrium becomes the catalyst for further probing and deeper thinking about the confusion. Dr. Forman has given the faculty a different lens through which to view inquiry as an approach to teaching and learning. Next week, I'll share some of Dr. Forman's observations about his classroom visit and interactions with the faculty.

We celebrated April birthdays at last Thursday's assembly. Lauren H., a Kindergartner, read her winning essay about attending a UH Rainbow Wahine basketball game. She won first place for her grade level and a pizza party for her classmates! Students in Ms. Lorenzana's multiage third-fourth grade class presented their mini-inquiry on an oli, Na Po, about the phases of the moon. In fact, the entire school had learned this oli last semester. The inquiry on the moon is related to their Hawaiian Studies research on agricultural practices in ancient Hawaii and the prominence of the moon in determining the best times during the month for planting, harvesting, and fishing. The entire school sang the oli, this time with a much better understanding of the words and motions.

The Fifth Graders returned home safely from their adventures at the YMCA camp in Keanae, Maui. Although it rained the entire two-and-half days they were at Keanae, they learned about the lo`i (kalo or taro farms) which are predominant in the area. They also enjoyed a campfire each night, participated in team-building activities (one of them was cleaning toilets and kitchen duty!), walked to a nearby arboretum, and spent nearly a day at Baldwin Beach Park. They'll also remember the long bus ride along the famous winding road to Hana.

Good time to fly a kite? We'll be celebrating Kite Day schoolwide on April 29. Thar she blows!

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey